After being arrested at a very young age off the coast of Russia And spending years in a Chinese aquarium, whales are about to get used to freedom in an 8-acre sanctuary at Klettsvik Bay in Iceland.
Audrey Padgett, general manager of Beluga Whale Sanctuary, told CNN during a video call in front of the belugas: “It’s been a pretty exciting journey. “It’s not easy, but it’s definitely a labor of love.”
Back in 2011, Little Gray and Little White were transferred from a Russian research facility to the Changfeng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai. The following year, the aquarium was acquired by Merlin Entertainments, a company opposed to the captivity of whales and dolphins.
And so the idea of bringing the whales back to sea was born.
The belugas̵7; new home, run by the charity Sea Life Trust, is a “much larger, natural environment” with many potential benefits, Padgett said.
She told CNN that more than 300 beluga dogs are in captivity around the world.
“Some Belgians are in cramped and inappropriate conditions,” she added. “And if what we can learn here from Little White and Little Gray can help improve the well-being of other animals… that really matters.”
Although Padgett is not involved in the logistics of shipping whales from China, she emphasizes that moving two whales is not easy.
Each one weighs a little more than a ton and consumes about 110 pounds of fish per day between them.
The operation involves specially designed equipment, veterinarians, and lots of water and ice to keep them deep, ” said Padgett.
The beluga had “stretchers” or cable cars to move them over land, and the team “practiced running” to get them used to traveling with trucks, tugs and cranes, according to Padgett.
“If you’re trying to get your cat or dog somewhere, you want them to have a positive relationship with travel … We have to make the dogs as comfortable as possible.” , Padgett continued.
After arriving in Iceland, the whales were kept in a care facility with quarantine tanks for several months, to allow them to adapt to colder Icelandic environments.
And though the last stage of the journey from the care facility to the shorter protected area, the Covid-19 pandemic significantly complicated it.
Padgett told CNN.
“We also need to protect our employees and put them in quarantine, because we need our people to take care of our animals.”
The adventures of Little Gray and Little White are not over yet. They are currently in a “mobile space” within the sanctuary That will allow them to safely adjust to their new home.
However, Padgett says they will have free control of the sanctuary on any given day.
Little Gray and Little White will be assessed around the clock because they are accustomed to going back to the oceanic environment.
And while whales benefit from more space to explore and new types of seaweeds, kelp and fish to enjoy, the whole activity also helps people understand belugas better, Padgett explains.
“It’s the finish line for these two, but it’s a new chapter for Belgians around the world,” she said.